By The Big Guy
There was a television show way back there in the 60’s called The Twilight Zone. It was created and frequently written by Rod Serling, who was also the show’s host. He would appear on camera at the beginning of the half hour drama, tell us a little bit about the evening’s story and invite us to watch the tale unfold. The Twilight Zone was a series renowned for how well it told stories, using science fiction settings to illustrate how we dealt with the other members of our species. And in many of the episodes the device of irony provided a gigantic surprise ending.
Every episode of the program’s five-year run is available on DVD and it is still in reruns on cable TV outlets like Me-TV and Syfy. If you want to see some excellent, even though visually dated drama you should try it. But first let me spoil one episode for you, just to illustrate the way irony was used. “Eye of the Beholder” takes place in an operating room. We see masked and gloved doctors and nurses performing surgery, doing what they can to save the face of a young lady born with terrible deformities. Days later we find ourselves staring at the young lady sitting up and having the bandages removed. Revealed is the face of a beautiful young blonde woman but we hear the doctors lamenting that they had done their best. Suddenly we notice for the first time that the writing on the walls is not of this earth. Then we see the doctors' unmasked faces, what we would consider deformed, but apparently on whatever planet this hospital is located they are the picture of health and beauty. The End.
All this brings me to another television show, this one sort of brand new. It’s Cosmos, a reboot as they say of the short series that was on PBS back in 1980 hosted by astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, updated with all we have learned about science in the intervening thirty-four years, even the downgrade of Pluto to a pretend planet. Cosmos is about to complete its limited run on National Geographic Channel but will live on as most shows do as DVDs and iTunes downloads. The current host, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, has taken us on a journey to show us our tiny little place in the universe, to remind us what science has done to allow the human race to thrive, and to inform us what science will need to do in the future to keep us from extinguishing our kind from the earth forever. If you haven’t been watching, you should check it out.
Dr. Tyson is no stranger to television and in a recent interview he was asked about life in the universe and shared a little irony of his own in the discussion. Over all the years of science fiction and all the stories about encounters with alien life, a general consensus would be high intelligence, visited earth, destructive force, ability to make humanity succumb to their will. However, Tyson’s biggest fear is a bit different. He wonders what if aliens have, like so many stories (and crackpots) have suggested, visited the earth, looked around, and having found no intelligent life here moved on?